Art for Climate Change
Nature has been a source of inspiration to artists since time immemorial. Whether we look at ancient cave paintings or vivid landscapes by masters of the Renaissance, the natural world has always stirred the artist’s imagination. These works, of course, have been extremely well received by the audience across generations and it shows us how art can make a powerful and positive impact on people.
In recent years, however, as wildfires spread across the globe, ocean levels rise, and entire ecosystems collapse, artists have been faced with the inescapable effects of our climate crisis. Reflecting on these ecological perils, many contemporary artists have become climate activists, using their work as a platform to raise awareness and imagine a more sustainable future.
Climate change is arguably the greatest challenge of the 21st century—a matter that scientists from around the world have been researching, discussing, modeling, and preparing to mitigate for decades. In spite of all the research and warnings, unfortunately, regional awareness and response to climate change have been varied.
Climate change art is art inspired by climate change and global warming, with the intention of making an emotional connection through the power of art. As human beings, we have a hardwired tendency to value personal experience over data; these artists make the same data more vivid and accessible. Climate change art is created both by scientists and by non-scientist artists. The field overlaps with data art - an emerging art form that is inspired by and principally incorporates data, computer science, information technology, artificial intelligence, and related data-driven fields.
A fascinating example is the Tempestry Project. It is a collaborative fiber arts project that presents global warming data in visual form through knitted or crocheted artwork. Each tempestry or scarf-sized banner, one row per day in a color representing that day's high temperature, for a year. Two or more tempestries for the same location, each representing different years, are displayed together to show daily high-temperature change over time. The project began in 2017 in Anacortes, Washington, US, and has since spread throughout the country and around the world.
Ed Hawkins, a scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of Reading, is also renowned for his contributions to this art movement. He created the "Climate Spirals”, a series of data art representations of global warming, and followed with "Warming Stripes”, a series of colored stripes representing chronologically ordered average annual temperature anomalies for a given location.
Some research indicates that climate change art is not particularly effective in changing people's views, though art with a "hopeful" message gives people ideas for change. The aim is to infiltrate popular culture, which will trigger a change in attitude which in turn will lead to mass action. It is thought that people who engage with climate change art feel a sense of belonging, a feeling of connection to a cause, and a sense of empowerment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that global, collectivized action against an existential threat is possible. And art can be a beacon of hope, lighting the way and compelling us to act. Humans are nothing if not resilient, and once our emotional chords are touched, there is nothing we cannot achieve.